Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said Bakhmut is not occupied – after Russia claimed control of the city following months of fierce fighting that has left it in ruins.
He said Ukrainian troops remained in the besieged eastern city, where he likened the devastation to that inflicted on Hiroshima in Japan following the dropping of the atomic bomb in 1945.
Earlier, Mr Zelenskyy declared “there is nothing left” in Bakhmut and the invading forces had “destroyed everything”, fuelling speculation it had fallen.
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It came after Russian President Vladimir Putin congratulated his troops for capturing the city, which is in the Donetsk region.
The Kremlin’s defence ministry and head of the Wagner mercenary group, Yevgeny Prigozhin, had both claimed the area was under Russian control on Saturday.
But speaking at the end of the G7 summit in Hiroshima, where he had been seeking to rally international support, the Ukrainian leader said: “I clearly understand what is taking place in Bakhmut.
“I cannot share with you the tactical views of our military, of our warriors.
“But as of today we see that the country which is dozens times bigger than we are, cannot occupy us, cannot win in this war.
“Bakhmut is not occupied by Russian Federation as of today.”
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Mr Zelenskyy added: “Let me be sincere that the pictures of ruined Hiroshima really remind me, totally remind me, of Bakhmut and other similar settlements and towns.
“Just the same – nothing alive left, all of the buildings have been ruined, there is no understanding where the street is, where the houses used to be.
“This is just a totally destroyed area, nothing left, not a single person left.”
Use the sliders below to see Maxar satellite images of a devastated Bakhmut 12 months ago compared to today
Reflecting on Hiroshima’s recovery, he said: “This is the modern city today which looks alive. There are the pictures of the tragedies of Hiroshima, and then the pictures of what we can see today.
“I consider that the same will take place in Bakhmut and other cities and settlements and villages and so on. Definitely, it will be like that.
“Unfortunately, today it is a tragedy but in the future there will be reconstruction and recovery.”
At a separate news conference, US President Joe Biden vowed Western allies would “not waver” in their support of Ukraine and would provide assistance as long as it is needed.
Mr Biden, having already paved the way for the supply of F-16s fighter jets to Ukraine, also announced a further £301m in military aid, including ammunition, artillery and vehicles.
He said: “The G7 reaffirmed our shared and unwavering, let me say it again, our shared and unwavering commitment to stand with the brave people of Ukraine as they defend themselves against Russia’s brutal war of aggression and the war crimes being committed.
“Together with our partner countries, we reiterated the need for a just peace that respects Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity.
“Russia started the war and Russia could end it today by withdrawing its troops from Ukraine internationally recognised borders and ceasing it’s assault.”
Mr Biden added: “The ability Ukraine has to defend itself is essential to being able to end this war permanently and through diplomacy.
“This morning I once more shared and assured President Zelenskyy, together with all G7 members and our allies and partners around the world, that we will not waver.
“Putin will not break our resolve as he thought he could.
“We’re going to continue to provide humanitarian and security assistance to Ukraine so it can stand strong as long as it needs.”
Fighting has raged in and around Bakhmut for more than eight months in the longest and probably most deadly battle of the Ukraine conflict so far, leaving few buildings standing.
Both Russia and Ukraine have suffered losses believed to be in the thousands, though neither has disclosed casualty numbers.
Kyiv has previously said its aim in Bakhmut was to draw Russian forces in and to inflict high casualties to weaken Moscow’s defence before a major counter-offensive.
Mr Zelenskyy underlined the importance of defending “fortress Bakhmut” in March, saying its fall could allow Russia to garner backing for a deal that might require Kyiv to make unacceptable compromises.
Analysts have said Bakhmut’s fall would be a blow to Ukraine and give some tactical advantages to Russia but would not prove decisive to the outcome of the war.
Russian forces would still face the massive task of seizing the remaining part of the Donetsk region still under Ukrainian control, including several heavily fortified areas.
The provinces of Donetsk and neighbouring Luhansk make up the Donbas – Ukraine’s industrial heartland – where a separatist uprising began in 2014 and which Moscow illegally annexed in September.